GLENDALE, Ariz: The Browns entered their game against the Arizona Cardinals focused on keeping the ball out of the hands of rookie sensation Patrick Peterson and Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
With a few insignificant exceptions, the Browns accomplished those missions for four quarters Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium. Unfortunately for the Browns, overtime proved to be another story.
Peterson returned a punt 32 yards, and Fitzgerald broke free to catch a 32-yard pass from quarterback John Skelton. Those plays set up Jay Feely’s game-winning, 22-yard field goal with 10:56 left in overtime, and the Browns fell 20-17 after leading by 10 points heading into the fourth quarter.
“It’s frustrating,” Browns cornerback Joe Haden said. “We always do good, and then we still find a way to end up losing. Something’s gotta change.”
The Browns (4-10) got the ball to start the sudden-death overtime, but they couldn’t seize control. After two short gains, quarterback Seneca Wallace, who started for the first time this season as Colt McCoy sat out with a concussion, threw a high pass to wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi that fell incomplete on third down.
On fourth-and-6 at the Browns’ 34-yard line, Brad Maynard punted for the seventh time. Buster Skrine, Ray Ventrone and Quinton Spears raced down the field, but they couldn’t stop Peterson, who has returned four punts for touchdowns this season, from sweeping to his right and returning to the Browns’ 40. Before his clutch play, Peterson had two returns for 1 yard and was often rendered useless by Maynard’s directional punting.
“It’s very frustrating, but Patrick Peterson is a good player,” said Skrine, who recorded his first career interception in the third quarter. “He made a good play. He just got one on us.”
Three plays later, Skelton, who started while quarterback Kevin Kolb continued to recover from a concussion, connected with Fitzgerald for a completion to the Browns’ 4. Browns nickel cornerback Dimitri Patterson got turned around near the line of scrimmage, and Fitzgerald was left wide open. Patterson said he and Haden had a breakdown in communication regarding coverage.
“It’s just how you finish,” Patterson said. “That’s what it comes down to at the end of the day. We’ve gotta close guys out better. We’ve gotta keep them down when we have them down. That definitely came back to bite us here — not being able to finish teams.”
The Browns led 17-7 heading into the fourth quarter, though they allowed their momentum to slip away.
Browns rookie defensive end Jabaal Sheard, who had two sacks, was penalized for defensive holding on second-and-3 at the Browns’ 7, giving the Cardinals (7-7) a first down at the 1. Two plays later, running back Beanie Wells capped an 11-play, 87-yard drive by rushing for a 1-yard touchdown with 8:33 left in the fourth quarter, trimming the Cardinals’ deficit to 17-14.
During the ensuing series, Cardinals linebacker O’Brien Schofield sacked Wallace on consecutive plays. After a challenge from the Cardinals, the officials ruled that Wallace fumbled at the Browns’ 5 during the second sack, and Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell recovered.
“It’s tough to be at that point in the game and have it come down to that decision with the referees having to call whether it is a fumble or not,” said Wallace, who completed 18-of-31 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown without an interception. “It’s my job to make sure I don’t put us in that situation.”
The Cardinals then tied the score 17-17 and foreshadowed overtime when Feely made a 33-yard field goal with 5:40 left in the fourth quarter.
“I take responsibility,” Wallace said. “I have to make more plays for our team and help us out, and at the end of the day, don’t give them easy points.”
Wallace performed well earlier in the game. He scrambled away from pressure and connected with rookie wide receiver Greg Little for a 76-yard touchdown, helping the Browns take a 17-7 lead with 3:01 left in the third quarter. He also completed a 29-yard pass to Massaquoi during the Browns’ opening drive, setting up running back Peyton Hillis’ 1-yard touchdown with 11:33 left in the first quarter.
Hillis finished with 26 carries for 99 yards. Backup running back Montario Hardesty, who has been bothered by a lingering right calf injury, was active but did not play.
The Browns extended their lead to 10-0 when Phil Dawson capped a 15-play, 54-yard drive by making a 44-yard field goal with 11:33 left in the second quarter. They had a 10-7 halftime lead after Skelton threw a 9-yard touchdown pass over the reach of free safety Mike Adams and into the hands of wide receiver Andre Roberts with 19 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Browns still had control heading into the fourth quarter, but Wallace and Co. couldn’t find answers in crunch time. The offense gained only two first downs after the third quarter, one in the fourth quarter and another in overtime.
“We’re up by 10, we’ve got to find a way to finish,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “We have got to keep scoring.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com.